Palace Beautiful – Interview and giveaway

Today we’d like to welcome Sarah deFord Williams, author of Palace Beautiful, published by G.P. Putnam. Palace Beautiful is Sarah’s first novel and it was released in April, 2010.

Palace Beautiful is one of my favorite middle-grade novels released this year. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the magic of attics and the collections of old things I found there. That’s probably why I loved this story so much. Here’s a description of the novel:

Book CoverWhen sisters Sadie and Zuzu Brooks move to Salt Lake City, they discover a secret room in the attic of their new house, with a sign that reads “Palace Beautiful” and containing an old journal. Along with their neighbor, dramatic Belladonna Desolation (real name: Kristin Smith), they take turns reading the story of a girl named Helen living during the flu epidemic of 1918. The journal ends with a tragedy that has a scary parallel to Sadie and Zuzu’s lives, and the girls become obsessed with finding out what happened to Helen after the journal ends. Did she survive the flu? Is she still alive somewhere? Or could her ghost be lurking in the nearby graveyard?


Welcome to the Mixed Up Files, Sarah! And congratulations on getting a starred review from the School Library Journal. That’s awesome! Tell us a little about your journey to publication.

My journey to publication was pretty long. About ten years ago I decided to start writing every day.  As a child I wrote all the time–dozens of journals, hundreds of songs and poems and stories, but I had never really tried to write a novel. When I made my goal to write every day, I didn’t even try to write books, yet. I just wanted to have a little space in my day for creativity that belonged just to me. I was so rusty, though, it took years to get anything that wasn’t just embarrassing. I suppose writing embarrassing things is all part of the process–my process at least. 🙂

About six years ago, I was home sick from work when I pulled out my daily writing like always. This time was different, though. As I started writing, I realized I had the first chapter of a novel. Something in me just knew that I could do this. I made a goal to have a first draft by the end of the summer. I did it. I kept it a secret–even from my mom, that I was writing a book. I didn’t want to jinks anything. 

Well, I finished that book and another book and then started Palace Beautiful before I ever even considered trying to get published. I just wanted to make sure I had a lot of books in me and not just one. I started trying to get a literary agent in February of 2006. I finally landed one in July of 2008. In September of 2008, we sent out Palace Beautiful to see what would happen. I expected to hear crickets. Literary, contemporary, kind of old fashion middle grade fiction isn’t exactly super-selling, high-powered sale material. To my surprise, a bunch of big publishing houses jumped on it right away. It ended up going to auction–during my French class! It was amazing! A year and a half later, the book came out. It has been a real roller coaster, but I’d never trade it. 

Wow, that does sound like a roller coaster ride! Since writing is so time-consuming, plus waiting for feedback from agents, editors and reveiwers can be nerve-wracking, how has your home life been affected?Sarah Williams

When I first started writing novels, I did it in secret. I’m not sure why I didn’t want to tell anyone, but I guess it was my safe little secret place–my own Palace Beautiful. Back then, I would write after I put the kids to bed. My husband was working in another state for the summer so he didn’t even know. After I finished writing my first book (which won’t be published), I admitted it to my mom and my husband and family. 

I kept writing and the kids kept growing. Soon, they didn’t need naps anymore and their bed time became close to mine, so I now have to write when they are awake. I don’t spend too much more time on it than I did before I was published, but it’s time that the kids see now, so it probably seems like I spend more time on it. 

I think it’s good for them, though. I hope it teaches them that when you are a mom, you are still an individual who has to do things outside the family as well to be a whole person. 

I’m looking forward to reading more novels by you, and I’m sure a lot of kids are too. Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

My current project is a book who’s working title (probably to be changed) is Artificial Night. I can’t say too much about it at this point other than to tell you that it’s a mystery that also takes place here in Salt Lake City. It’s for the same demographic as Palace Beautiful, and also has a main character who is 13. When I started this book I wanted to have fun. I wanted to do everything I love about writing. When it’s done, I hope the book will be mysterious, atmospheric, creepy, funny, silly, complex, rich and fun. Right now, it’s pretty rough, but I think when it’s finished, it will be my very favorite. It’s already under contract at Penguin, so I hope everyone else will like it, too. 

Oh, that sounds good! We’ll stop asking you questions now so you can get back to work. Thank you so much for talking with us, Sarah!

Readers, if you’d like to win a hardcover copy of Palace Beautiful, leave a message in the comments section below. We’ll announce the winner tomorrow. Good luck!

Jennifer Duddy Gill
  1. So good to hear about this success! I put the book on my to-read list.

  2. Lovely interview! This is one of the books on my list to read this year.

    I liked reading about how writing has changed for Sara. With small kids myself, I feel the challenges of balancing writing and spending time with them – it’s reassuring to hear that I’m not the only one.

    Btw, literary, contemporary MG sounds perfect to my ears!

    Thanks to Sara and Jennifer.

  3. I’ve been dying to read Palace Beautiful all summer, i just haven’t made it in to a bookstore. Great interview Sara, I love to hear about other people’s processes in the writing world.

  4. What a great interview! Palace Beautiful sounds like a wonderful story that both my daughter and I would enjoy.

  5. Thanks for this giveaway!

  6. Historical fiction is one of my FAVORITES. Gosh, this book looks great.

  7. That is just the kind of book I loved as a kid and just the kind my daughters would love. I will have to check this one out for my school library.

  8. The book is so gorgeous!

  9. Palace Beautiful is already on my list of books to read. (I’d learned about it from a writer’s group.) After reading this interview, I’m going to have to bump it up to the top of the list as I’m really in need of a good MG read right now!

  10. Sarah,

    Your story and cover are EXACTLY the kind of book I like. Also, when I first started writing, I did it in secret, too. Congrats on the great reviews and good luck on the next book!

  11. This sounds like a fantastic read! Congrats, Sarah, on getting starred and for sharing your story.